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Around the world, people of all cultures have enjoyed the health and relaxation benefits of saunas and other sweat-inducing therapies for thousands of years. More recently, modern advancements in infrared technology have made it easier - and more cost effective - for people to experience the benefits of a sauna from the comfort of their own home.
When it comes to sauna benefits, it can be hard to decipher fact from fiction. To help you sort through the claims, we've put together this handy sauna introduction, including information on the different types of saunas, how they work, the benefits they provide, as well as basic "need to know" information and warnings associated with sauna use.
Traditional saunas are available in two main types: wet and dry. Both are powered by some type of heating stove, usually wood-burning or electric. Modern traditional saunas use these heaters to warm volcanic rocks to a high temperature and provide radiant heat. The main difference between the two types of traditional saunas is the temperature and humidity at which they operate. Dry saunas are exactly that - DRY. The humidity stays fairly low, and the air is heated upwards of 190 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, wet saunas (also called steam saunas) max out at a lower temperature around 110 degrees, and they use evaporated water to provide a more humid relaxation experience for the user.
New infrared saunas are a type of dry sauna, but they’re able to work at a lower temperature - around 120-140 degrees Fahrenheit. Why? Infrared heating technology warms the body more directly instead of heating the surrounding air, causing the same intense sweat but with less energy. Not only does the lower air temperature provide a more comfortable experience for the user, but it also saves quite a bit of money on monthly energy bills.
FUN FACT: On average, traditional saunas use about three times more energy than infrared saunas (4.5-6 kw traditional vs. 1.5-1.7 kw infrared)!
Saunas work by heating the body, causing the skin’s pores to open and release sweat at the same time blood vessels dilate near the skin’s surface. This boosts circulation to the skin, which helps cool the body as heat is transferred to evaporating sweat. The heart accelerates to around 120-150 beats per minute in order to keep up with the increased circulation and maximize the transfer of heat outside the body. Core body temperature will increase slightly, but your body works to keep this change within a healthy range. The combination of heat, increased circulation and accelerated heart rate helps the body release endorphins, which induces a relaxed, tranquil feeling and can reduce muscle and joint pain.
There are numerous studies on the benefits of sauna usage. However, studies that focus on specific health benefits (such as lowering high blood pressure) have revealed conflicting information. That said, regular sauna use has been shown to produce the following positive results:
Some people claim that sauna use also helps with weight loss. However, the truth is that the immediate weight loss you notice is mostly just water weight. The average person loses a pint of water (or more!) in a single sauna session. You may have lost a pound from that pint, but now your body is dehydrated. Remember to drink plenty of fluids before and after each sauna session to prevent any negative health effects. When used in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise program, saunas can help enhance your weight loss efforts, in addition to relaxing sore muscles after a strenuous workout.
You may have also heard claims that saunas help to detoxify the body. While there is a small amount of truth to this, the amount of toxins and heavy metals excreted in through the sweat glands is minuscule compared to what your kidneys, liver and other organs are doing already. Saunas are not the cure-all for eliminating toxins in the body, but they certainly aren’t hurting anything.
Before using a sauna for the first time, it’s important to understand the associated risks. Because saunas increase your core temperature, they’re not recommended for people with heart disease or respiratory difficulties. There are a handful of studies that indicate saunas may actually help reduce high blood pressure. However, as with any serious health conditions, it’s important to get feedback and approval from your doctor before starting. You should not use a sauna if you are pregnant, have epilepsy, are sick and running a fever, or if you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Sauna use may also cause negative reactions with certain medications. When in doubt, ask a healthcare professional.
As we mentioned earlier, saunas make you sweat - a LOT. Drink plenty of water before and after using the sauna to replenish your fluids. Be on the lookout for signs of dehydration or overheating, including dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, extreme thirst or the onset of a sudden headache. If you feel any of these symptoms, leave the sauna immediately, sit down and sip on a cool glass of water until symptoms subside. In extreme cases, medical attention may be necessary; listen to your body!
Above all else, remember to relax! Enjoy your time in the sauna. If you’re new to saunas, start slow with 10 minute sessions, and gradually work your way up to longer 15, 20 or even 30 minute sessions. Just don’t overdo it, and again, listen to your body to know when it's time to quit! To pass the time, you can read a book or magazine, listen to music, talk with friends, or simply meditate and allow your mind to unwind in silence. Many newer saunas come with a built-in sound system to play your favorite music or relaxing, ambient tones.
Hot Tub Works carries a broad selection of top notch infrared saunas, from single user portable saunas to more extravagant four-person cedar saunas. With so many different options and our everyday low prices, it’s now easier than ever to have your very own in-home sauna. In no time at all, you too can experience the many benefits of owning - and using - an infrared sauna.